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May 26, 2005

Confessions of a Plant “Ho”

(Note: For Internet novices, the bright orange text signifies a link to a photo. Just click on those with your mouse to see a photo!)

My gardening friends know that I’ll do just about anything for free plants.

Nothing gets my heart beating faster than the possibility of getting a plant, any plant, for free. Okay, almost any plant. Even I have my standards.

There are many ways to get free plants. The most obvious is by exchanging plants with a friend. Last week I visited my friend Susan to see her lovely gardens, and yes, because she has bloodroot, a woodland plant I have been coveting for quite some time.

I brought a along a couple pots of Ligularia “Othello,” and I came home with ideas for my own gardens – plus a pot of the coveted bloodroot. Susan also shared a pot of Heuchera “Plum Pudding” which she had just divided. Bonus!

There is a delicate etiquette to whoring for plants. There are times when I can be quite bold about asking someone for plants, without any expectation of me offering something in return. A good example of this is the arrangement with my friend Sharon.

Our sons go to daycare together, and last May, we were at her house in Ham Lake for Josh’s birthday party. Never having been in the far northern suburbs before, I was unprepared for her property, which has basically been carved out of the woods.

While everyone else was inside watching Josh open his presents, I was roaming through the backyard, squawking every time I saw a woodland plant that I had just spent $7.50 for the day before.

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I cornered Sharon, and with a wild look in my eye, begged, “Do you have a shovel?”

With shovel in hand and Sharon’s blessings upon me, I filled up a box with ferns, merrybells, rue anemone, violets, and even a trillium.

This year, Josh did not hold a birthday party at their house, but Sharon invited us back again for the ultimate playdate: Graham and Josh played for hours on the swing set while Sharon and I tramped through the woods and gathered more woodland lovelies for my dry streambed garden. Which had a bed of lovely blossoms this past week. I loved the look the blossoms gave the area.

There are other times when an intricate dance is performed. When I visited my friend Marsha last week for my annual spring gardening lunch, I came with the understanding that upon finishing our tasty repast, my handy shovel would swing into action. I also came with pots of this and that to offer to her in return. Some plants she took and others she refused.

This year I was after violets in particular, and Marsha had several patches that had sprung up in places where she didn’t want them. And in a perfect gardening twist of fate, the aforementioned Susan learned that I had received yellow violets from Marsha. Now she covets them, and I am able to pass them along from Marsha to her.

Sometimes free plants come as a result of doing something good. I have assisted with a number of volunteer gardening projects in which the participants are able to divvy up any left over plants.

Sometimes free plants just appear out of the blue. A few weeks ago, I stepped away from my desk at work for a few minutes and came back to find a box with five unidentified tubers sitting on my chair. There was no note, no identification of just what exactly they are, just a tantalizing set of possibilities to watch and see what grows from them.

The benefits of to free plants are pretty obvious, the biggest being I don’t have to pay for them. When we finished our house and garden remodel a few years ago, we had lovely new raised beds but little money to purchase plants to fill them.

For years I had walked past a house in the neighborhood that has a massive mixed border along one whole end of the property. That year, I approached the owner and asked if I could have some plants when she was dividing her perennials. Thanks to Anita, I loaded at least four trays of plant material into the minivan and gave my new beds a cheap makeover.

You can also get plants from friends that you’ve always been meaning to add to your gardens but just haven’t put them high enough on the purchase list to justify. Last week Marsha also shared some tiarella with me. I’ve heard its praises sung by gardeners I respect, and I’ve seen lovely photos in books, but it has always seemed too expensive in the garden centers when there were other plants I needed more.

The other, more intangible, benefits come when you look upon your beds and see that the hosta you got from a coworker last spring made it through the winter or you notice that the liatris a former neighbor shared are in bloom. These plants are visual scrapbooks of good friends and good memories.

There are some basic rules to keep in mind when accepting or seeking free plants:

1. You’ve got to have a place for them. If you don’t know where you are going to put them, don’t take them. It’s even better when you can get a specific plant that you truly need, like the “Plum Pudding” I received from Susan. I have several in my garden but one died over the winter. I would have had to purchase one if not for her generosity.
2. Don’t accept (or give away) plants that are thugs and will eventually take over your gardens. I am still digging out Canadian anemone that someone gave me when we first bought our house 14 years ago. Ask why your friends are so eager to give their plants away.
3. If you don’t have the time to plant them, the plants will guilt you mercilessly. Who needs that stress?
4. What goes around comes around. If you have been the recipient of free plants, you have an obligation to share your own plants with those who need them. I often give away plants as birthday gifts to friends who are just starting out as gardeners. You can also donate them to plant sales at your school or other charitable causes.

As I write this, I have several flats of freebies waiting for me to plant them tomorrow. Some will go into my gardens, and others will be passed along to other gardeners and other gardens. They are plants with a purpose.

So while I will do just about anything for free plants, even I have my standards.

What’s happening in the garden now:
Brian chose the plant combination for his new perennial bed under the spruce trees. We were able to purchase almost all the plants we needed and got them all into the ground Saturday night. The garden will be series of rings extending from the trees out and includes “Great Expectations” hosta, “Metallica” Athyrium nipponicum or Japanese painted fern, “Stella D’oro” daylilies and “Beedham’s White” lamium. Watch for photos throughout the summer to see how the garden comes together.

In the ornamental grass beds, the prairie smoke are showing their pinky/gray bells, and the dodecatheon is in bloom.

The first early clematis is blooming along the chain link fence. Every year I add more vines to cover the fence and give us more privacy from the neighbors.

Here’s what’s blooming now:
Wild geranium
Columbine
Woodland phlox
Jack in the Pulpit
Pulmonaria
Japanese anemone
Jacob’s ladder
Lily of the valley
Forget-me-nots
Geranium
Clematis
Tulips
Grape hyacinth
Virginia bluebells
Rue anemone
Trillium – both the nodding and the standard types
Flax
Merry bells
Prairie smoke
Violets
Daffodils
Hellebores
Bergenia
Creeping phlox
Strawberries
Lilacs

Garden chores for the week:
Continue to weed.

Bring up the plants I started from seed and start hardening them off.

Bring out the hummingbird and oriole feeders.

Plant up the new copper pots that will go in front of the pergola. I’m attempting to replicate an arrangement I saw in the White Flower Farm catalog. Other pots will go on the deck and the front stoop.

Plant tomatoes, herbs and annuals.

Prune the forsythia.

Dig up the yarrow clump under the magnolia tree.

Pot up plants for friends.

Vegetable garden:
The seemingly endless stretch of cool and rainy weather has been a godsend for my little salad bowl project. I have tried growing mesclun for several different years with no success. This year I must have finally purchased the right seed and got it planted at the right time, because I have had several salads this week by simply stepping out my back door onto the deck and snipping leaves onto a plate. I’m hoping that the plants will be “cut and come again” so I can eat salad greens all summer this way.

Seed Starting Update:

Verbena Bonariensis
• 4/16 - Two have finally germinated.

Celosia “Forest Fire” – Lake Valley Seed for 1996
• 4/11 – Had to knock off the seed coating of one of the seedlings so the leaves could open.
• 4/13 – 8 more seeds
• 4/15 – 3 more seeds
• 4/16 - potted up four seedlings that had their second set of leaves.

Penstemon “Sensation Mix” – Unwins for 2004?
• 4/11 – One seed germinated. It looks a lot like the celosia seedlings.

Scabiosa atropurpurea “Cutflower Mix” – Unwins for 2004?
• 4/11 – Potted 7 plants into peat pots in their own tray. I should have done this a week ago. A few have gotten very leggy. The smallest ones transplanted the best. One that had its stem roughed up a bit has died.

Sunflower “Autumn Beauty” – Fredonia Seeds for 2003
• 5/1 – Planted seeds in peat pots

Morning Glory “Grandpa Otis” – Renee’s Garden for 2003
• 5/1 – Planted seeds in peat pots
• 5/7 – They have germinated

Morning Glory “Flying Saucers” – Livingston Seeds for 2000
• 5/1 – Planted seeds in peat pots
• 5/7 – They have germinated

Tithonia Rotundifolia “Torch Tithonia” – Renee’s Garden for 2005
• 5/1 – Planted seeds in peat pots

Morning Glory “Scarlett O’Hara” – Burpee’s for 2004
• 5/8– Planted seeds in peat pots

Morning Glory “Early Call” – Shepherd’s for 1998
• 5/8– Planted seeds in peat pots

And finally, our latest home project is complete. Brian provides a full summary, with photos, over on his Vikings blog on Friday (5/27).

Posted by maasx003 at 8:01 AM

May 8, 2005

A Woodsy Wonderland

Of all the gardens we’ve done thus far, I’d have to say the woodland/dry stream bed one has given me the most satisfaction. That’s pretty rich coming from a prairie girl.

In addition to all the ornamental perennials that provide grace and beauty to the bed, I wanted to include those plants that I would see on our walks through the woods in the neighborhood and in French Park.

It’s been fun learning about Minnesota native woodland plants and acquiring them through nurseries or other gardening friends. I wrote a grant and received money from the City of Plymouth through their native plant initiative. These funds helped purchase plants at Landscape Alternatives, an excellent nursery which only sells native plants it grows. They stock an amazing array of woodland and prairie plants.

Spring is a special time in a woodland garden because so many of the plants are ephemerals. They disappear shortly after blooming, not be seen again until the following year.

Right now among the hosta shoots and fern fronds that are peeking through the soil, the rue anemone are showing their sweet pink faces and the trillium have begun to bloom. Three large clumps of Virginia bluebells nod in the wind. They were planted in memory of my dear gardening friend and native plant mentor Tony Pezalla who died of cancer in December 2003.

Two other ephemerals that add lovely color are not Minnesota natives but I wouldn’t be without them. The Turkish tulips are in full bloom now and their jewel-like yellow and red flowers provide wave after wave of color along the stream bed.

The snake’s head fritillaria are native to Britain but they just look so cool, I have to have them. They look especially good with the yellow Turkish tulips.

Other woodland plants in bloom include a variety of different violets are in bloom as well in white, yellow and purples.

These fleeting plants are such a gentle, beautiful way to welcome the growing season. I wish they’d stay longer but perhaps then they wouldn’t be so sweet.

What’s happening in the garden now:
Brian chose the plant combination for his new perennial bed under the spruce trees. We were able to purchase almost all the plants we needed and got them all into the ground Saturday night. The garden will be series of rings extending from the trees out and includes “Great Expectations” hosta, “Metallica” Athyrium nipponicum or Japanese painted fern, “Stella D’oro” daylilies and “Beedham’s White” lamium.

In the ornamental grass beds the prairie smoke have begun to show their pinky/gray bells.

Here’s What’s Blooming Now:
Tulips
Grape hyacinth
Virginia bluebells (View Virginia bluebells)
Rue anemone
Flax (View blue flax)
Merry bells
Snake’s head fritillaria (View Snake’s head fritillaria)
Prairie smoke
Turkish tulips (View yellow Turkish tulips) and (View red Turkish tulips)
Violets
Daffodils (View Daffodils)
Crocus
Forsythia
Serviceberry
Wild prairie crocus (View Wild prairie crocus)
Squill (View Squill)
Hellebores
Bergenia
Flowering crabapple trees
Creeping phlox (View Creeping phlox)
Strawberries

Garden Chores for the Week:
Continue to weed. Every time I go outside, I have to pick at least one maple sapling.

Water the new bed and the Graham Thomas (View Graham Thomas) roses we transplanted. The current forecast is for rain but I’ll believe it when I feel it.

Spread a low nitrogen fertilizer all over the garden beds. I’ve been reading that if you mulch heavily with woodchips, you need to replace nitrogen in the soil. When the chips decompose, they use up the soil’s nitrogen supply.

Start working on a garden center shopping list. Figure out which perennials need replacing and what annuals we’ll add for color.

Bring out the hummingbird and oriole feeders.

Dig up the yarrow clump under the magnolia tree. I’ve had it with this plant. It does nothing for me or the garden and just keeps encroaching on everything else. I’ll pot it up and donate it to a plant sale at work.

Vegetable Garden

Brian purchased some netting to use as “walls” to keep Pont out of the vegetable beds.

Seed Starting Update

Verbena Bonariensis
• 4/16 - Two have finally germinated

Celosia “Forest Fire” – Lake Valley Seed for 1996
• 4/11 – Had to knock off the seed coating of one of the seedlings so the leaves could open.
• 4/13 – 8 more seeds
• 4/15 – 3 more seeds
• 4/16 - potted up four seedlings that had their second set of leaves.

Penstemon “Sensation Mix” – Unwins for 2004?
• 4/11 – One seed germinated. It looks a lot like the celosia seedlings.

Scabiosa atropurpurea “Cutflower Mix” – Unwins for 2004?
• 4/11 – Potted 7 plants into peat pots in their own tray. I should have done this a week ago. A few have gotten very leggy. The smallest ones transplanted the best. One that had its stem roughed up a bit has died.

Sunflower “Autumn Beauty” – Fredonia Seeds for 2003
• 5/1 – Planted seeds in peat pots

Morning Glory “Grandpa Otis” – Renee’s Garden for 2003
• 5/1 – Planted seeds in peat pots
• 5/7 – They have germinated

Morning Glory “Flying Saucers” – Livingston Seeds for 2000
• 5/1 – Planted seeds in peat pots
• 5/7 – They have germinated

Tithonia Rotundifolia “Torch Tithonia” – Renee’s Garden for 2005
• 5/1 – Planted seeds in peat pots

Morning Glory “Scarlett O’Hara” – Burpee’s for 2004
• 5/8– Planted seeds in peat pots

Morning Glory “Early Call” – Shepherd’s for 1998
• 5/8– Planted seeds in peat pots

Woodland Wildflower Alert

The uvularia or merry bells are in bloom along the woodland walking paths. So are a white-flowering shrub which I think may be the native elderberry.

Posted by maasx003 at 3:37 PM

May 1, 2005

Cosmetic Surgery for the Garden

Landscaping is a lot like cosmetic surgery: once you get started, it’s hard to stop.

For more than five years we have been slowly adding hardscape elements to our garden. Raised beds with lannon stone walls here, a pergola there. Every summer following the project’s completion, we think, “Okay, that’s it. We’re done.”

But by the time spring rolls around, we’ve already speed-dialed our landscape designer with new ideas and plans. When his son was born a few years ago, we were surprised he didn’t name the lad “Maas” since we figure we’ve already bankrolled the kid’s college education.

This year’s project came out of a decision Brian made last summer to prune up (as seen here) the four Colorado spruce along the street. By raising up the bottom level of the branches, he increased the sight lines (as seen here) down the street and discovered a whole new area to plant under the trees.

So a few weeks ago, the gang from Dundee Landscape and Nursery were back again, installing lannon stone walls (as seen here) and adding fresh topsoil and mulch. Now the fun begins as we decide what kinds of perennials to put under the trees (as seen here) to provide blooms throughout the season.

We have ideas for other projects but it may take winning the lottery to fund them this year. We are toying with adding another patio next to the pergola for an outdoor dining area but we are concerned it will add too much hardscape. Will the gardens cease to feel like gardens (as seen here) when we trade plants for pavers?

And what about adding a pond at the far right of yard, next to the Austrian pine we acquired when we finally did an accurate survey of our property? Will that take away from the other things we’ve done already? Will the gardens start looking like an aging B-list Hollywood starlet who’s done one Botox treatment too many?

One project we will do for sure this summer is to fill in the gap in the arborvitae along the back fence to help give us privacy when we are outside.

Filling in the gap? Sounds like cosmetic dental work now.

See? We just don’t know how to quit.

What’s happening in the garden now:
With the recent down swing in weather (it’s snowing as I write this), not much is happening in the garden. The plants have slowed down their blooms and it’s too bloody cold for me to work outdoors.

But one welcome addition to the blooming plants is the snake’s head fritillary. These checker board beauties grow wild in Britain, and I’ve got several colonies established along the dry stream bed. Their nodding purple heads are an ephemeral delight. Soon after they finish blooming, the whole plant will disappear until next spring.

Here’s what’s blooming now (and Brian will try to get photos next week as he was busy with the Vikings this week):
Snake’s head fritallary
Turkish tulips
Violets
Daffodils
Forsythia
Serviceberry
Wild prairie crocus
Squill
Hellebores
Bergenia
Flowering crabapple trees
Petasites
Creeping phlox
Strawberries


Garden chores for the week:
Weed, weed, weed. We are surrounded by silver maple trees which blanket our yard and gardens with seeds, and it seems like every single seed germinates. I am also trying to contain the wild Canadian anemone. Its white blooms are cheerful but it is the most prolific and invasive thing in the garden, even more so than the simple white field daisy.

When the weather improves, start planting Stella d’Oro daylilies in the new gardens under the spruce. Brian bought them a few weeks ago at Home Depot and they are sending out monstrous shoots in their plastic bags.

Dig up the ornamental and native grasses growing where we will put the new arborvitae. I will move them to where the Graham Thomas roses were until we decide what to do with them permanently.

Dig up the yarrow clump under the magnolia tree. I’ve had it with this plant. It does nothing for me or the garden and just keeps encroaching on everything else. I’ll pot it up and donate it to a plant sale at work.

Plant some sunflower seeds and tithonia in peat pots. Maybe these can fill in the gap left by the Graham Thomas roses.

Vegetable Garden:
The lettuce and radishes continue to grow well. The peas have emerged about a half-inch above the ground. I found one sweet pea so far that has germinated. The chives are setting blossoms.

Seed Starting Update:
I’ve neglected the seeds this week and need to pot up some more celosia.

Verbena Bonariensis
• 4/16 - Two have finally germinated

Celosia “Forest Fire” – Lake Valley Seed for 1996
• 4/11 – Had to knock off the seed coating of one of the seedlings so the leaves could open.
• 4/13 – 8 more seeds
• 4/15 – 3 more seeds
• 4/16 - potted up four seedlings that had their second set of leaves.

Penstemon “Sensation Mix” – Unwins for 2004?
• 4/11 – One seed germinated. It looks a lot like the celosia seedlings.

Scabiosa atropurpurea “Cutflower Mix” – Unwins for 2004?
• 4/11 – Potted 7 plants into peat pots in their own tray. I should have done this a week ago. A few have gotten very leggy. The smallest ones transplanted the best. One that had its stem roughed up a bit has died.

Woodland Wildflower Alert:
Yesterday the Boy, the two dogs and I took a very long and very cold walk through a different set of woods. We saw a few rue anemone blooming and several Solomon’s seal unfurling their stems.

Family Plug

Brian attended Vikings mini-camp this past Friday and has been posting reports by position all weekend. On Saturday alone, his site had nearly 5,000 visitors! And the photos are great. Check it out!


Posted by maasx003 at 7:41 PM